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Bitten by Twilight: Younger Fans Embrace Abstinence, Traditional Love

MU communication experts interview Twilight fans

Nov. 16, 2009

Story Contact(s):
Kelsey Jackson, JacksonKN@missouri.edu, (573) 882-8353

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – On Nov. 20, Twilight fans will watch the romance unfold between Bella and Edward in “Twilight Saga:  New Moon.” University of Missouri communication experts have studied the predominately female audience of the Twilight series and found that fans’ obsessions stem from the traditional, idealized romantic relationship that stresses the importance of abstinence. The researchers discuss their findings in the new book, “Bitten by Twilight: Youth culture, media, and the vampire franchise.”

“What really surprised us was the obvious abstinence message in the books and that teens were responding favorably to this message,” said Melissa Click, assistant professor of communication in the College of Arts and Science. “Many of the young women that we interviewed had felt pressure to perform sexually by their peers, but now they have a desire to find their own ‘Edward,’ who will be interested in them for nonsexual reasons.”

In the popular vampire-romance novels, Edward is an ideal male partner who is older, good-looking, loyal, talented and protective. Bella is a typical young woman but with a broken home life. The story emphasizes that Edward loves Bella purely for nonsexual reasons.

“Many other book series geared toward young adults, such as Gossip Girls, are highly sexualized,” said Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, assistant professor of communication in the College of Arts and Science. “This series represents a backlash to the ‘hooking up’ culture. Twilight has been a way for young girls to acknowledge their emerging sexuality without actually having sex.”

The MU researchers interviewed Twilight readers who participated on fan Web sites or attended Twilight conventions. Technology has enhanced readers’ experiences and connected fans from across the country with each other, Click said.

“Twilight is less of a vampire story and more of a romantic love story,” Click said. “Edward and Bella’s relationship is a very traditional model of a relationship that reinforces gender stereotypes. The series reinvents traditional romantic ideals and embraces the concept of love against all odds. These impressions of romantic relationships may shape younger women’s expectations of romance.”

However, some messages in Twilight could be harmful to young women.

“Although a seemingly perfect romantic interest, Edward’s obsessive and controlling behavior could send some very problematic messages to young fans,” said Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, assistant professor of communication. “For example, at one point in the series, Edward takes the battery out of Bella’s car to prevent her from leaving.”

Researchers also observed generational differences in the experiences of the readers. The “Twilight Mom,” or older readers of the series, often read the books and yearned for young love and to be free of domestic duties, like the vampires in the series. Younger readers were more likely to model their future romantic relationships after Edward and Bella’s relationships.

“Some of the fans have emailed us seeking a treatment for their obsession with the series,” Click said. “Fans have asked us, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ or ‘Why can’t I stop reading the books?’”

 “Bitten by Twilight: Youth culture, media, and the vampire franchise” will be published by Peter Lang in May 2010. Click, Behm-Morawitz and Aubrey are the editors of the book and co-authors of several chapters in the book.

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